Koya closed its doors on 31st May 2015, with Junya Yamasaki returning to Japan. Its sister restaurant Koya bar will remain.
In Japan it is common for restaurants to specialise in a particular style of food e.g. sushi, shabu shabu or noodles, and to do nothing else. Most London places offer a range of Japanese cooking styles, so it is interesting to see a restaurant that is pretty much entirely about one thing: udon (thick wheat- based white) noodles. The menu offers noodles either hot, or cold with either a dipping sauce or hot broth. A few other dishes are also available. Kirin beer was £3.70, and there were a few token wines, such as Valensac Sauvignon Blanc 2009 at £21.50 for a wine that retails at £6. Koya opened in 2010, and there is a sister restaurant in Paris.
The Soho premises (which previously housed the late lamented Alistair Little restaurant) are simple, with tiled floor and no tablecloths, the atmosphere casual, with no reservations taken. But there was nothing casual about the prawn tempura (£10.80) that appeared. Two large prawns were carefully cooked in a light batter, along with assorted vegetables (such as red and green bell peppers and asparagus). The quality of the batter was high and the vegetables were very good (14/20).
A large bowl of udon noodles, in this case with pork and miso, featured noodles with really lovely texture (the flour is imported from Japan, but the water used is good old Thames, albeit softened). The noodles have a hint of firmness but are soft when you bite into them, and the stock served with them was rich and excellent, the pork giving an extra dimension of flavour (15/20). This compared well with some noodles I have eaten in Japan.
The bill for the two dishes that I tried, plus complimentary water, came to £21 including service. It is fair to say that either of the dishes alone would have been sufficient for a normal lunch. Service was basic but pleasant. Overall this was a very impressive experience, both the noodles and the tempura to a high standard. I will come back at some point and try some other dishes.
At a visit in July 2013 I tried cold udon noodles with venison, the noodles having very good texture, the minced venison having plenty of flavour (14/20). A small plate of roasted duck was properly cooked, the meat having reasonable flavour, served with mustard on the side (13/20). Prawn tempura was again good, the batter not of the level of delicacy you find in Japan, but certainly even, and the prawns were carefully cooked; this came with a few tempura vegetables as well as the prawns (14/20). A green salad was simple but had fresh leaves and well-balanced dressing (13/20). Service was very basic, but they did seem quite rushed, so I wasn’t expecting anything fancy. The bill came to £20 a head.